If the country is going to meet the future demands of electric cars, its charging infrastructure and power grids are going to need a lot of help, and the companies in the best position to fix this problem could be utility companies.
That’s the opinion of Greenlots CEO Brett Hauser, whose electric vehicle infrastructure solutions company recently launched a pilot program with utility provider Avista to install and operate a network of charging stations in the Eastern Washington region. He says that utility-owned and operated charging networks will help cities and states scale up EV infrastructure while giving them a holistic view of the EV charging demands. With this information and control, power companies will be able to predict, manage, and balance the aggregate demand on their power grids to avoid expensive capacity upgrades and prevent demand surges that could cause rolling black outs in some regions.
Utility companies getting in the battery charging game is a contentious topic for some constituents in the EV community. Many people and businesses that have already invested millions in existing solutions fear that utility companies have an obvious unfair pricing advantage and will inhibit competition by undercutting prices. At present, technology companies such as ChargePoint and Blink manufacture their own proprietary charging stations and allow business owners who install them to set their own consumer usage prices, including the option to charge for free. There is a fear that if busineses think they can’t make money by installing a charger, they won’t.
This pilot study won’t preclude other businesses from establishing or expanding their own networks charging stations, but they will be on the hook for upgrading service capacity if needed. That’s an obstacle that only a few well-financed entities, such as Tesla, typically can overcome and puts utility companies in the right financial and resource position to facilitate infrastructure expansion. However, the Obama Administration recently announced availability of up to $4.5 billion in federal loans to accelerate EV adoption, which should it easier for other companies to give Greenlots and Avista a bit of competition on bringing electric vehicle charging to the masses.